Facebook, Twitter cut access to monitoring tool used by police

Geofeedia has been marketing itself as a surveillance tool for law enforcement

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were handing over data to a monitoring tool that law enforcement agencies were using to track protesters, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The social media analysis tool, called Geofeedia, had been harvesting posts from the social media networks for surveillance purposes, and more than 500 law enforcement and public safety agencies have been using it, the ACLU said in a Tuesday report.

Through a public records request, the ACLU found that Geofeedia had entered into agreements with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for their users' data.

In uncovered emails, Geofeedia said the tool was useful for monitoring protests in Ferguson, Missouri, involving the 2014 police shooting death of Mike Brown.

The ACLU is concerned that the tool can "disproportionately impact communities of color," through its monitoring of activists and their neighborhoods. Among Geofeedia's features is an interactive map of real-time Instagram posts showing user locations.

"These records revealed the fast expansion of social media surveillance with little-to-no debate or oversight," the ACLU said.

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have all severed access to Geofeedia after learning about the tool's activities.

"This developer only had access to data that people chose to make public," Facebook said in a statement. The company, which also owns Instagram, has a policy prohibiting from its data being used in a search engine without permission.

Twitter said on Tuesday that it was immediately suspending Geofeedia's commercial access to the platform. The company already has a policy prohibiting developers from using its data for surveillance.

Chicago-based Geofeedia didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company's CEO has asked to meet with the ACLU, according to the watchdog group.

A case study document uncovered by the ACLU shows that Geofeedia had a hand in helping law enforcement respond to riots following the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal injury while in police custody in Baltimore.

During the riots, Baltimore police used Geofeedia to alert them when rioters were targeting police vehicles and when a group of high school students -- carrying backpacks filled with rocks, bottles, and fence posts -- skipped class to attend a protest.

"In some cases, police officers were even able to run social media photos through facial recognition technology to discover rioters with outstanding warrants and arrest them directly from the crowd," the case study said.

"We plan to use the social media archive data from Geofeedia to prosecute as many law breakers from the riots as we can," a Baltimore police detective said in the case study.

However, the ACLU is encouraging social media companies to adopt clear policies banning developers from exploiting their data for surveillance needs.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Facebook

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Michael Kan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?